You can’t leave a half-eaten tuna fish sandwich in the refrigerator forever, and neither can you go months without investing in your most important relationships.
In the first case, you’re going to stink up your kitchen, and in the second you’re going to discover – too late – that you ignored people so long that they will now ignore you.
But let’s start at the beginning…
Every time that you get to meet a high caliber person, you should focus on three things:
1. Build rapport: Anyone can get in the door one time; your job during a first meeting is to earn the right to come back again. To do this, you must demonstrate that you are someone of value. Show that you are interesting, informative, well-connected, or perceptive. Most importantly, leave the other person wanting more.
HINT: you won’t accomplish this by monopolizing the conversation or bragging about your accomplishments.
2. Convey credibility thru the questions you ask: Before I go to see someone new, I do my research. What’s happening in their industry and organization? Have they published (or commented on) anything lately, or perhaps spoken at an industry event? What’s it like to be them?
When you pontificate, you leave a meeting with almost nothing new in your head. But when you ask perceptive questions, you can simultaneously impress as well as learn. You are making it easy for the other person to focus on what really matters.
3. Determine the next steps, if any: It’s not my intention to leave with a laundry list of To Do items. Instead, I make note of a maximum of three things I’ve committed to follow up on. Since three is my limit, I work hard to make certain these are items of importance that will make a difference to both of us. For example, I may agree to introduce a CEO to a talented CTO I suspect would be eager to join his organization.
In the aftermath of meeting you, the other person should be thinking, “Wow. That was such a good use of my time.”
BUT… what comes next?
The next few days and weeks are critical.
You must follow through, which is a process (vs. simply following up, often a transaction)! This is the time to meet or exceed expectations. You goal is to reinforce the three items I’ve listed above:
- Build rapport
- Convey credibility
- Deliver on your To Do list
If you are successful, you’ve created a valuable new relationship. Now imagine that relationship gets stamped with an expiration date. The clock starts ticking.
You have to take care of this new relationship. If you simply say, “What a great meeting, now I know a CEO!” then the value of that relationship will wither and die. Instead, you must nurture this – and all your relationships – by staying in touch, by continuing to be helpful, and by listening carefully.
Is this easy? No. The more relationships you have, the more time it takes to keep them strong and healthy. But the only way to do this is to constantly care for them. There is no other strategy that works. None.